Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost ~Year C
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
August 12, 2007
"Three Keys to
for the Day
Hebrews 11:1-3 (4-7) 8-16
you in the name of God our Creator, Christ our
Brother, and the Holy Spirit who sustains and
sanctifies us, empowering us to love and to serve both God
and Christ. Let us be silent for a moment in their
presence -- as we seek to be present to them.
lessons appointed for today have a single deep and
broad theme, and that theme is "Faith". Faith is
kind of a churchy word when you think about it. It's
much more churchy, for instance, than 'Love" which has
been hijacked by our culture to the point that it can mean
anything from unbridled lust to a deep affection for
waffle cones of cappuccino crunch ice cream -- something,
by the way, that I do indeed love.
of this faith thing? What does it mean to have faith? What
do we make of it? And how do we go about participating --
with God -- in the growth and nurturance of our own lives
Genesis text we pick up the story of Abram, who
first came onto the scene at the end of Chapter 11. Abram
has already thrown in with God in a big way -- at the age
of seventy-five, he left the land of his birth on a long
journey. And now we hear God say to him:
'Do not be afraid.
I am your shield; your reward will be very great . .
. no one but your own issue shall be your heir . . .
Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able
to count them. So shall your descendents be.'
believed the Lord . . .
15:1-6 (selected) (NRSV)
lesson from Luke we hear the familiar passage about
being watchful slaves; the text is prefaced by a quick
treatise on God's will for us and the response we are
called -- in faith -- to make to God's amazing love. Hear
again Jesus' words in Luke 12:32 and the following verses:
not be afraid,
little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to
give you the kingdom.
Sell you possessions
and give alms . . .
where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
32, 33a, 34 (NRSV)
in the lesson from Hebrews we get a great
definition of faith, and powerful examples of faith in
action from the saints of the Old Testament. The
definition of faith is a simple -- and classic -- one:
faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the
conviction of things not seen. "
of Saints in Hebrews is long, too, and the stories are
moving: Abel and Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac,
Jacob, Joseph and Moses.
So what do
we make of all this?
Surely faith is a key tenet of our religious tradition,
but so what? If you decided
-- if I decided -- if we all
decided here and now to live a life of deep faith, what
might that look like?
three simple things we can do to live a life of
faith -- and they are all things we can begin doing
here, now, in response to the amazing love of God in
Christ. These three things are:
1) Fear Not
2) See and Believe
angels said it to the shepherds on the Galilean
hillside the night Jesus was born -- in fact angels say it
almost every time they show up in the Bible. God said
it to Abram in our text from Genesis. Jesus said
it to the disciples in our passage from Luke. Fear
not polite Episcopal language, but I must tell you that
fear is the work of the Devil, the great deceiver, the
liar who begs us to fall back on our own devices and
foreswear our faith in God. Fear is a solvent for faith
-- whatever faith we have (whether it is large enough to
move mountains or as small as a mustard seed) will
dissolve when awash in a sea of fear.
I am not
saying there is nothing to fear in life, for that,
too is a lie. Some people mean us harm. Those we love
will sicken and die. We, too, will weaken and meet a
more-or-less gentle end. Life is -- or can be
-- difficult. But none of these difficulties is beyond
the reach of our compassionate and loving God -- the
same God whose good pleasure it is to give us the
kingdom. Our African-American brothers and sisters were
right when they sang, "He's got the whole world in
his hands." Nothing is beyond the reach of our
loving and redemptive God. So fear not -- that is the
beginning of faith.
hear of people having "blind faith" and -- at least for my
money -- that is alternate language for "just plain
stupid". God does not call us to have blind faith.
God calls us to see and to believe.
our friend Abram,
from the Old Testament lesson for today. Abram is
probably best known to us as Abraham, the father of Isaac;
the patriarch who -- in faithful obedience to God --
packed up his only son and prepared to sacrifice him to
God. I have often thought, "What kind of loony-toon would
do that?" But I wasn't seeing the world through Abram's
eyes. Abram had seen. And Abram believed.
time Abram was called upon to sacrifice his son, he had
been led by God (and lived) on a long sojourn from his
homeland through the land of Canaan to Egypt. He had left
Egypt and made his way through the Negev.
He had had
multiple encounters with God -- in each of which God
had promised to make Abram the father of a great nation.
seen Sarah bear a child as promised by God -- even after
both of them laughed at God for making such a preposterous
promise. Abram had seen. And he believed. His heart
sustained him when his reason failed him -- and that's
another definition of faith.
step in building a life of faith is to see and believe.
We have all seen things that help us to believe, but they
are so common we discount them. Jesus turned water into
wine at the wedding in Cana, and we count that a
miracle. God is busy turning water into wine every
day in wineries across the world -- and the miracle is
so common and in such slow motion that we ascribe it to
natural processes and not to an act of God. Who, after
all, is the author of natural processes?
looking out right now at an entire congregation of
The odds of your being here -- of your being born at
all -- are infinitesimally small. Had your mother
conceived one month sooner -- or one month later -- you
would not be here at all.
here. You get
to breathe crisp fall air and stare at bright blue skies
and watch snowflakes drift down on quiet winter days.
You, yourself, are a flesh and blood miracle. See and
The faith of which we have been speaking is
nurtured by -- and grows in light of -- response. And
response is the third of the three-part model that builds
our lives of faith.
last week, dozens of members of Saint Paul's have been
conducting Vacation Bible School, painting and living the
life of faith at El Buen Pastor (The Good Shepherd) in
Costa Rica. Now that's responding.
August 13, at 9AM, Saint Paul's Vacation Bible School
will begin with a staff of dozens of committed and
faithful volunteers. The children will laugh and sing and
play and have a wonderful time learning about Jesus -- all
because people of faith were willing to respond.
Thursday, August 16th, at 5PM,
Shinika Austin and her son will move into
their new home. This is not just any home -- this is a
Habitat House -- built by Saint Paul's members who
have responded to God's call to love and to serve others.
This, too, is responding.
Perhaps none of these is a way you can
and that's okay, too. I am reminded of the old story about
a rabbi meeting to counsel with a member of his
synagogue. The believer was plagued with worry because he
had not served God in the grand way of some of the great
patriarchs of the faith. The rabbi spoke gently to the
man, assuring him: "When you meet God, God will not ask
why you were not Moses. God will ask why you were
There are ways that only you can respond
-- gifts that only you have -- because God graced
you with them at the moment of your birth. Take those
I had a letter last month from an old and
She is married to another dear friend and they have a
lovely family -- two boys in their early teens. My
friend is once again pregnant -- this time as a surrogate
mother for a young couple who lost their only chance
at parenthood to a crushing stillbirth in the fifth month
of the pregnancy.
My friend is 49.
The child will be born one month to the day before her
fiftieth birthday. Every day her husband gives her shots
to help sustain the pregnancy to full term. There are
clearly some things to fear in this wild and faithful
journey. But my friend has faith. My friend has seen
God's faithfulness over and over again. My friend
believes. And she has responded with an emphatic and
faithful "yes" to God's call on her life in this grand and
In one of her best-known poems, the poet
Mary Oliver asks, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with
your one wild and precious life?"
My counsel -- to you, to Mary Oliver, and
to myself regarding our "one wild and precious life"
is just this:
1) Fear Not
2) See and Believe
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